Every home should have a good family game. What is a family game? It’s a game that the whole family can play, obviously. Can’t you work any of this stuff out for yourself? If I have to explain every single concept to you we’re going to be here all day! Anyway, a great family game is something that mum, dad, the kids, granny and the weird lodger in the basement can play. It is easy to explain, plays quick, and great fun. It also helps if it looks beautiful. Sadly, a game with all these qualities is as rare as rocking horse shit (which is even more rare nowadays – jeez, when was the last time you even saw a rocking horse?). Oh, but, anyway, point is, I got a family game for you. Read on.
“No, she did it willingly.”
So goes the old joke about making “her” do something. Nice, isn’t it? Fortunately, the board game Jamaica is nothing to do with making anybody do anything. It’s a racing game, with each player a pirate ship sailing around Jamaica. On the way round the island, pirates can stop at special spaces to pick up treasure – these treasures award gold (points) or special abilities. Or sometimes curses. YIKES!
Okay, let me explain how this game works. * cough * Every player has a hand of action cards. These cards are split into day and night actions. So, one card might allow you to MOVE FORWARD during the day and MOVE BACK during the night. Another card might allow you to LOAD UP WITH GOLD during the day and then MOVE FORWARD at night. Another might allow you to MOVE BACK during the day and LOAD UP WITH CANNONS during the night. For every card you play, you do two things.
Now – every turn a new player rolls two six-sided navigation dice. Let’s say I just rolled a 4 and a 6. I now decide how these dice are placed. Essentially, I’m deciding which value goes with day and which with night. I place down 4 in the Day slot and 6 in the Night slot. Then, if I play a GOLD and MOVE FORWARD card, I take 4 gold and move forward 6 spaces. See? Dead simple. Then all the other players play the cards that will best suit that 4/6 navigation. Delicious.
Here’s a key element of the game – you only have so many spaces in the hold of your ship to carry stuff. Every time you load new stuff it goes in a separate space. So one space might have 2 gold in it. If you load 4 gold in a later turn, you can’t stack it on top. You need to put it in its own space. So you’re constantly managing your hold as you load up with GOLD and FOOD and CANNONS.
Oh yeah. Food. Many of the spaces on the board demand that you pay FOOD to land on them. You need to feed your crew, right? So that’s another consideration as you navigate around the island – you need to make sure you have the food for the spaces you’re moving to, and the GOLD cost for landing at any port spaces. If, at any point, you can’t pay the costs – you just pay what you can and then move backwards until you reach a space you CAN afford.
I know you want me to get to the CANNONS. You want to hear about the fights, right? Well, if you land on the same space as an opponent’s ship, you attack it. You roll a battle die. So does your opponent. Before rolling, you can both spend any cannons you have to raise the score. High score wins. The winner gets to steal a treasure or a whole slot’s worth of stuff from the loser’s hold, or can instead give a cursed treasure to the loser. Here’s what’s really cool though – there’s a little explosion symbol on one side of the battle die. That’s an automatic win right there. It means a ship with no cannons can still land a lucky shot and win the fight. It also means that attackers (who always roll first, remember) have distinct advantage in any battle, which keeps the game very CUT-THROAT and PIRATEY.
First ship round the island once ends the game and scores the highest possible score bonus. All other ships are scored for where they finish. Gold and treasure values are added, curses are deducted, and the highest score is DUN-DU-DU-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN THE WINNER!
Now, let me tell you something – this is a FANTASTIC GAME. I love the fact that it feels as simple as a silly little roll-and-move race game, but that there are enough choices in there to make things interesting. Enough control to make it feel like your fate is in your hands. And hey – combat too! And nasty, exciting combat to boot. And even choices to make after combat – which stuff do you steal from your victim? What do you jettison from your hold to take that new stuff?
The game has been a smash with everyone I’ve played with, from a 7-year-old up to a 36 year old piece of shit like me. It’s fun, streamlined, quick-as-a-whip, free from frustration – it’s pretty much family game GOLD DUST.
And the art? The components? Man, this game looks beautiful. Just beautiful. It is GORGEOUS. A lot of love has been poured into this thing. Even the action cards hold a surprise treat – when you lay them all out you can join them all into one big bit of panoramic art. It’s ridiculous.
So yeah – a strong recommendation for this game. It can stand alongside the likes of Survive and Break The Safe as an example of brilliant family game design. If you are a gamer with kids, it’s a must – and it will play great with all your horrible adult gamer buddies too.
A sport game. With fighting? KAOS.